Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Better Than Taxes

In the course of a recent post on Warren Buffett and the Efficient Market Hypothesis, Scott Sumner made the following aside:

Bill Gates essentially taxed middle class consumers all over the developed world, and is giving almost all of the money to the disadvantged in poor countries. That’s something governments don’t do, and yet for his “monopoly profits” he is despised by many on the left.

This prompted a hearty Amen from Arnold Kling, who added:

There is a huge contest going on between politicians and rich people over who should get to spend their money. Most of us have no direct stake in the outcome–as neither politicians nor rich people, we will not have the choice.

But I think we really ought to be rooting for the rich people. That is, we should root for lower taxes and less government spending. Government is one of the worst charities in the world. It advertises that it is going to give money to worthy causes, but very little money goes to programs that are aimed at people in need, and not many of those programs hit their targets. All of the bleeding hearts who are thrilled by the idea of government closing tax loopholes and taking more money from rich people should do an empirical analysis of who benefits from government spending and who benefits from the spending of rich people.

I’m not aware of any empirical analysis comparing the results of private charity versus government spending, but I suspect Kling is right that, dollar for dollar, you get more bang for your buck from private charitable spending than you do from government spending. If your average rich guy decides he wants to give away his money in the most beneficial way possible, he’s probably not going to just give it to the government, and I don’t think that’s just because he’s being foolish. Continue reading

May 5, 2009 Posted by | Charity, Government, Taxes | Leave a comment

The White Man’s Burden: Review

In the sixty plus years since the end of WWII, Western governments and aid agencies have dolled out more than $2 trillion dollars in economic assistance to the world’s poorer nations as a means of economic development. The results of all this assistance, to put it mildly, have been far from stunning. Numerous studies have found no positive effect of foreign aid on economic growth, and there is even some evidence that the impact may be negative.


And while some countries have seen spectacular growth in recent years (to the point where the standard of living in these formerly “Third World” countries now exceeds that of many places in the West), this growth has tended to be in countries that have received little in aid. Continue reading

April 3, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Charity, Economics, Poverty, Progress | Leave a comment

Confessions of an Economic Hitman: Review

Part memoir, part polemic, Confessions of an Economic Hitman tells the story of John Perkins, a former economic forecaster for the engineering firm of Chas T. Main, Inc. As a forecaster, Perkins’ job was to provide estimates of the effect various infrastructure projects (mainly electrification) would have on economic growth in developing countries. These estimates were then used to justify loans to developing countries from international aid agencies, which would then hire Main to complete the project.

Perkins makes two claims about his work for Main. The first, that he inflated his estimates so Main could get more and bigger contracts, sounds fairly plausible. It’s true, for example, that the actual growth resulting from foreign aid has often fallen far short of projections. I’m inclined to think that this was more often the result of wild eyed optimism than crass cynicism, but I have no doubt that this sort of corruption did occur, and my only objection to Perkins’ remarks on this score would be to the idea that corruption in transfers of money from Western governments and agencies to developing world governments somehow represents an indictment of the free market.

In addition to profit-seeking, however, Perkins claims that he was in reality an agent of the NSA, and that his true mission in getting developing world governments to agree to these loans was to so saddle them with debt so that they could be forced to abide by Western economic and foreign policy interests. Continue reading

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Capitalism, Charity, Economics, Foreign Policy, Poverty, Progress | Leave a comment

Conspicuous Compassion

When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret. – Matthew 6:1-4

The practice of which Christ speaks, doing good deeds not because they are good but for the praise of men, is as common today as it was in first century Palestine. Certainly people often engage in charitable activities and ethical behavior for the purest of motives. Yet just as certainly such charitable activities are often done to be trendy or so that people will think well of them. Just as people will often engage is conspicuous consumption, buying flashy cars or clothes not for any practical purpose but merely to advertise their wealth, so people often engage in conspicuous compassion, undertaking flashy acts of charity as a means of advertising their purported virtue.

Of course, the fact that a charitable is done for mean motives does not render it totally worthless. T.S. Eliot’s famous line, “the last temptation is the greatest treason/to do the right deed for the wrong reason” may be true on a personal level. But from a social point of view, the good effects of a good deed are the same regardless of the motivation whereby it was done. A society where honor was given based on how one treated the weakest and most vulnerable (rather than being based on, say, how many women one has slept with) would be a better society, even if it would not per se be a more virtuous one.

Still, doing good is not the same as appearing to do good, and to the extent that people are motivated by conspicuous compassion, there is a danger that they will opt for the kinds of charitable actions that get the most attention rather than those that have the biggest practical effect. Continue reading

January 11, 2009 Posted by | Charity, Ethics, Government | 1 Comment

Organ Failures

In a recent speech, Pope Benedict addressed the subject of organ donation:

If we turn our gaze to the entire world, it is easy to confirm the numerous and complex cases in which, thanks to the technique of organ transplantation, many people have overcome extremely grave illnesses, and in them the joy of life has been restored. This would never have happened if the commitment of the doctors and the competence of the researchers had not been able to count upon the generosity and altruism of those who have donated organs.

Unfortunately, the problem of the lack of available vital organs is not a theoretical one, but a considerably practical one; one can see this in the long waiting list of those whose only hope for survival is linked to the small number of non-useful donations.

Regarding the technique of organ transplants, this means that one can only donate if this act doesn’t put one’s own health and identity in serious danger, and if it is done for a valid moral and proportionate reason. Any reasons for the buying and selling of organs, or the adoption of utilitarian and discriminatory criteria, would clash in such a way with the meaning of gift that they would be invalidated, qualifying them as illicit moral acts. Abuses in transplants and organ trafficking, which frequently affect innocent persons, such as children, must find the scientific and medical community united in a joint refusal. They should be decidedly condemned as abominable.

Continue reading

November 17, 2008 Posted by | Catholicism, Charity, Economics, Health Care, Morality | 2 Comments

The Real Individualists

In contemporary political debates, those of us who tend to be opposed to an increased role for government in solving social problems are often accused of being radical individualists who favor an atomized society, whereas those who favor such interventions are often described as supporting communal obligations. But as DarwinCatholic argues, it ain’t necessarily so:

When we had been married a few years, things came to a crisis point with the care of my paternal grandmother. My grandfather had died several years before, and grandma was in increasingly poor health, not able to get around by herself well. My dad was her only surviving child, and he was in the middle of chemo therapy. Her niece, who had been living with her for several years to provide in-house care, had to move back to Colorado to help one of her own children. So two options lay before us: We could put grandma into a nursing home, an idea which she absolutely hated but which medicare would pay for, or MrsDarwin and I could move in with her to provide full time care — despite having a one-year-old and MrsDarwin being pregnant.

We did the latter. It was a difficult period, though in the end it was much shorter than we expected, because grandma died (in her own house, as she had always wished) not much more than a month after we moved in.

This is, I think, exactly the sort of community and mutual obligation that we all agree our culture needs more of: The older generation helping to rear the young, the young in turn taking care of the old. All too often, people are “too busy” and older relatives are left along, whether in their own homes or in “group homes”.

How does this relate to progressive versus conservative approaches to social services? Continue reading

July 12, 2008 Posted by | Charity, Government | Leave a comment

Charity: Luxury or Necessity?

Via DarwinCatholic, Arthur Brooks has an article up at NRO exploring the poor giving record of Barach and Michelle Obama:

After Mr. and Mrs. Obama released their tax returns, the press quickly noticed that, between 2000 and 2004, they gave less than one percent of their income to charity, far lower than the national average. Their giving rose to a laudable five percent in 2005 and six percent in 2006, with the explosion of their annual income to near $1 million, and the advent of Mr. Obama’s national political aspirations (representing a rare case in which political ambition apparently led to social benefit).

According to an Obama spokesman, the couple’s miserly charity until 2005 “was as generous as they could be at the time,” given their personal expenses. In other words, despite an annual average income over the period of about $244,000, they simply could not afford to give anything meaningful.

Continue reading

April 2, 2008 Posted by | Charity, Taxes | Leave a comment